The ROI of a crystal clear brand story
In 1973, Luis Miguel traveled from his home in Mexico City to the Ozark Mountains in Missouri for summer camp. It was his first time in the United States.
“I immediately fell in love with the modernity, the openness and the dynamism of the American culture. I wanted to emigrate and be part of the American dream,” he said.
But he knew something was wrong.
There was a boy at camp who referred to him by a name he had never heard before. When Luis returned home, he looked up the meaning of “Wetback.”
He was astonished to learn about this derogatory term for Mexicans crossing the Rio Grande river. And was puzzled by why this young man, a complete stranger who knew nothing about him, would call him such a name. But this would become an important moment in the shaping of Luis.
He told me, although he didn’t know it at the time, that this incident is one of many pivotal scenes in his life that have shaped his joy for helping immigrants realize their American dream.
For the past 20 years, Luis and his team at Avantpage have provided language translation services for government, elections, health care and educational programs to help immigrants assimilate in this country. Avantpage is headquartered in Davis, CA, and has offices in Mexico City and Warsaw, Poland.
But Luis realized that their specialized translation work wasn’t being recognized. Avantpage blended in with myriad other translation firms. He knew it was time to refresh the company’s brand story to ensure its growth and sustainability.
The return on his new brand story has already been impressive, including:
- 30% more new business prospects in just three months since launching its refreshed brand story
- Avantpage’s organic search rankings dramatically improved because their story revealed the search terms they wanted to rank highest to attract their best customers
- Their website conversation rate quadrupled because now they are speaking the language of their ideal customer
Since rebranding, Avantpage has experienced a 200% increase in applicants who mention that they feel connected to the brand’s new mission of helping immigrants.
Avantpage reports a “massive increase” in employee interaction and enthusiasm for their refreshed brand.
Never underestimate the value of your origin story
Luis and his head of marketing, Sabra Rubinstein, contacted me in September of 2016 about helping them develop Avantpage’s brand story. They filled out the DIY Brand Story Strategy workbook and sent it to me for review. But they didn’t realize the real work was now beginning.
Sabra, in her article in the Business of Story magazine about Avantpage’s rebranding effort, said, “You may think you’re prepared to take on this task on your own or with your team. But, be warned rebranding is no easy feat. There are literally hundreds of moving pieces and countless entities that go into the success of the rebrand. That’s why you need an expert in branding to help you navigate the obstacles.”
We gathered for a full-day discovery session where we poked and prodded at the brand’s origin story.
I’ve learned after nearly 35 years of brand development that the honest to goodness heart and soul of a company is always found in its origin story. But not the one you think.
The origin story you seek is about the company’s founder. You find these stories by unearthing scenes like Luis described above; seminal moments that shape who they are today. Find these scenes and your brand story will begin to reveal itself.
Plus, your people will start modeling this scene-finding exercise to uncover their own origin stories, which they inform their own version of the brand narrative.
You can hear other turning points in Luis’ life that have shaped Avantpage on this episode of the Business of Story. He and Sabra describe how they used the Story Cycle System™ to define Avantpage’s new brand story.
How the Story Cycle System™ clarified the Avantpage brand story
The 10-step Story Cycle System™ is a proven brand creation process based on a story structure that has been around since the beginning of time called the Hero’s Journey. It works because it intuitively connects leadership within your company to the humanity of your brand: how your product or service positively impacts the people it connects with.
Similar to how Maslov’s Hierarchy of Needs that levels up people from basal physiological needs to safety to life/belonging to esteem to self-actualization, the Story Cycle System™ does the same thing for your brand.
“Your brand story is not about what you make, but what you make happen in the world.” – Park Howell
From step one through 10, we help you identify what you operationally do in the market for survival and elevate your brand by identifying its unique value proposition, emotional promise, intrinsic gift, and authentic personality arriving at your purpose: why your brand exists beyond just making money. What is the impact it has on humanity?
Humanizing your brand is crucial because when you do you will attract your optimal customer who will purchase on principle not price. They will increase your margins and remain loyal as long as you deliver on the promises you make with your brand story.
Simply stated, the Story Cycle System™ humanizes your brand and creates a story that everyone can live into and prosper from. It’s important to remember that your brand story is not about what you make, but what you make happen in the world.
10 steps to your brand story strategy
STEP 1: Backstory – Claim your #1 position in the market to focus your story
What do you do different – and therefore better – than your competition? We arrived at Avantpage’s brand position statement by having them define what industry, category and specialty they operate in. Here’s how they answered:
Category: Language service provider
Specialty: Translation services
But this isn’t enough to separate them from their competition. Avantpage, like all brands, must lay claim to their #1 specialty in their market. Declare your #1 position and you can become the go-to resource for your specialty. Here’s what they arrive at:
Brand Position Statement: Avantpage is the #1 resource for translation services to help governments, healthcare and democratic elections connect with and empower immigrant populations.
By declaring their #1 position in the crowded language translations market, Avantpage began to focus on what they do exceedingly well and more importantly, why they do it: to empower immigrant populations. Can you see how their story is already starting to elevate the brand from just being another B2B translation company to one that stands for something bigger?
STEP 2: Heroes – Identify your target audiences to make your message resonate
Who cares the most about your product or service? These are the audiences you want to invite into your brand story. By audience, I mean the groups of people you need to buy into your story. In Avantpage’s brand story, they prioritized their audiences in this order:
Audience #1: Employees
Audience #2: Customers
Audience #3: Vendors/linguists
It often makes sense to identify your employees as your top audience when it comes to re-branding because you need to get them to believe in and model your story before you share it with your customers. Sometimes brands place customers first before they get buy-in from their people, which can lead to an awkward and weak launch of your new or refreshed brand.
And don’t forget your suppliers. They are an important part of your story because they operate as de facto extensions of your brand. You want them living into and prospering from your story, too.
STEP 3: Stakes – Clarify what your audiences seek so you can connect on a deeper level through understanding and empathy
Once Avantpage identified their primary audiences, they clarified what is at stake for each: what they want relative to the Avantpage offering?
Audience #1: Employees
Employees want to believe in a new brand story that they can live into and prosper from.
Audience #2: Customers
Avantpage customers want the most timely, accurate and trustworthy translations possible from a caring provider.
Audience #3: Vendors/linguists
Vendors and linguists who serve Avantpage want to be treated honestly with respect and receive a consistent volume of meaningful work.
If you notice, what’s at stake for each of these audiences is not so much about wanting/needing the physical translations that the brand provides (that’s a given), but the trust, integrity and fulfillment that comes from engaging with a trusted brand like Avantpage.
By understanding these psychological needs, we elevate the Avantpage offering in the hearts and minds of its audiences. This leads to the next step of articulating what this all means through their unique value proposition.
STEP 4: Disruption – Declare your unique value proposition to create brand distinction
To take your first big step out of the primordial muck of commoditization you must battle status quo with change. To do that you either have to be the disruptive force or your brand is the answer to disruption happening in the market. Either way, your goal is to become the most timely, relevant and urgent offering in response to a changing market.
But that takes guts.
Avantpage decided to separate itself from the pack by being the disruptive leader having the courage to become activist in their market. This is an especially timely ethos given the chaos in polarized leadership in D.C., the proposed Wall and nationalism that is turning its back on immigration.
Avantpage isn’t just about providing trusted translation services. They are the translation company to work with when you actually care about helping immigrants realize their American dream.
Once they got clear on this fact: that their brand story isn’t about what they make (translations), but what they make happen (helping immigrants realize their American dream) then everything else came into focus, including their unique value proposition.
Unique Value Proposition: Avantpage, with empathy beyond words, helps immigrants overstand their brave new world.
Yes, you read that right. Overstanding!
Their UVP is based on the concept of “Overstanding“. Overstanding came from the global Hip Hop culture. Artists coined the term to portray the distinction between the understanding that life is difficult and the overstanding that life is more difficult than it need be because it is in the interest of those in power to keep things as they are.
The Urban Dictionary defines Overstanding as:
The Distinction between Overstanding and Understanding is a matter of context and awareness. To overstand is to comprehend a thing itself AND to have knowledge of why it is the way it is and of its place or role in the grand scheme of things. If you can use something or do a job, you understand and memorize enough to act. One who understands may also be able to innovate or redesign but otherwise accepts the boundaries of a thing as given.
Those who overstand appreciate the bigger picture and their rightful place in it. The concept of Overstanding became the linchpin of the Avantpage activist brand story. It led to its brand theme: Overstanding with empathy beyond words.
STEP 5: Antagonists – Take advantage of opposing market forces to strengthen your brand performance
Every story has its obstacles and antagonists that stand in the way of the hero’s success. For Avantpage, these competitive forces included what they termed “Big Wig” vendors, “Fly-by-Night” operators and DIY online platforms that offer impersonal, transactional and often imprecise translations. They not only vie for Avantpage’s customers but often soil the industry’s reputation through unreliable service.
But these kinds of market dynamics are important to your brand story. They are what you position yourself against to strengthen your UVP, what you stand for and how you deliver on your promises.
Frank Daniels, a famous USC Film School professor said, “Your story is only as strong as your villain is evil.” Turns out that this applies to your brand story, too. So don’t fear the villains, fog and crevasses that stand in your way. Embrace them to make your brand story all the more powerful.
STEP 6: Mentor – Define your authentic brand personality to build belief and trust
Now that you’re halfway through the Story Cycle System™, we focus on the personality of your brand. Your findings in this chapter will shape the look, feel, tone, content and user experience of all of your creative campaigns and messaging.
Emotionally, what does your brand provide to every one of our audiences, what is the psychological thread that weaves them all together? For Avantpage, that emotion is trust. It’s important to define your brand promise because it becomes your aspirational North Star that your employees can rally around.
The brand gift is again a reflection of our brand mantra: “It’s not what you make, but what you make happen.” For Avantpage, what they make happen in the lives they touch is the phenomenon of Overstanding: Understanding is like academic knowledge while Overstanding is experiential wisdom. As an activist brand, Avantpage provides Overstanding to everyone they encounter.
Brand Promise: Trust
Brand Gift: Overstanding
Brand Personality: Caregiver (Secondary archetypes: Regular Guy/Gal and Hero)
Now that you have determined physically and philosophically what you provide to your audiences, it’s time to determine the personality of your brand. We used Swiss psychologist Carl Jung’s 12 primary personality archetypes. Which archetype best expresses the personality of your brand?
Avantpage selected the Caregiver as its primary archetype, which is a direct reflection of the earnestness of its founder, Luis. They then selected Regular Guy/Gal and the Hero as supporting archetypes, which speaks to their easy-going way but with an activist mentality. Kind of like president Teddy Roosevelt’s famous line, “Speak softly and carry a big stick.”
In the case of Avantpage, they operate with empathy beyond words through its Caretaker archetype with a hint of Regular Guy/Gal for depth. Then the Hero archetype colors its attitude toward helping immigrants overstand their situation. These personalities are combined to reflect the character of Avantpage, which encourages immigrants to find their personal agency in their quest for the American dream.
STEP 7: Journey – Map your customer journey to create lasting engagement
Once you have arrived at your brand’s promise, gift and archetype, find nine one-word descriptors that support your personality. These are important because you’ll use them as story themes throughout your customer engagement to move your audiences from brand awareness to adoption to appreciation and beyond.
Think of three words that describe your company, three words that define your offering and three words that detail your customer service. Here’s what Avantpage arrived at:
Once you have your nine brand descriptors, find true stories about your company, offering and customer service that demonstrate how you perform for each descriptor. Use each word as a single theme for your individual true stories.
You’ll start with nine incredibly powerful anecdotes you can use to demonstrate your brand story to your employees to get buy-in. Plus, you’ll leverage these stories for website content and inbound and outbound marketing all while strengthening your brand ethos.
You can see how Avantpage uses their descriptors to support their personality and guide the creation of their creative communications by exploring the Avantpage website.
STEP 8: Success – Plan your brand bonding to empower your audiences
One of the big mistakes your brand can make is not planning for the small success milestones your audiences will experience as they engage with your company. Consider how you will celebrate each success point with your customer when they pass through the thresholds of brand awareness, adoption and appreciation.
I won’t divulge how Avantpage is building bonds with their audiences as they empower them through the success they help them achieve but suffice to say that having a plan in this area helps you move your customers from brand appreciation to evangelism.
At this point in the Story Cycle System™, we bring everything from the first seven steps and capture it in your brand statement. Avantpage’s follows:
Brand Statement: Avantpage – with empathy beyond words – empowers immigrants to achieve their American dream through trusted language translations. We help them grasp the nature and significance of an ideal or issue, strive for complete and intuitive comprehension so they can connect with and navigate through their brave new world and truly overstand their journey.
STEP 9: Moral – Articulate your purpose to elevate the meaning of your brand
Have you experienced in this article how we elevated the meaning of Avantpage that would make Maslov proud?
In step 1 we identified their features and functions, or their physiological needs, to determine their #1 position in the world.
Then we stepped up to safety by understanding their audiences and what’s at stake. We leveled-up to life/belonging as captured in Avantpage’s unique value proposition: Avantpage, with empathy beyond words, helps immigrants overstand their brave new world.
And then we developed their personality to create esteem around the brand supported by its nine descriptors.
Now we’re at self-actualization in the Story Cycle System™ as we defined their brand purpose. Ask yourself: Why does your brand exist beyond making money? Avantpage answered:
Brand Purpose: Avantpage exists to help all immigrants realize their American dream.
It’s worth repeating: It’s not what you make, but what you make happen that is what your brand story is about.
STEP 10: Ritual – Design your brand rituals for repeat business
Now your goal is to make your brand a significant part of your customers’ lives. How do you build repeat business by becoming a ritual? And once you do, you will have elevated them from brand awareness through adoption and into appreciation. Your next step is evangelism as they make your story their story and share it with their world. Word of mouth marketing is your most powerful and least expensive form of advertising leading to referrals and a growing business.
This is how you humanize your brand. Stand for something greater. Connect with audiences and customers on a deeper level by speaking their language. And exercise your own empathy beyond words.
Let us know how we can help.